If Ladakh hasn’t found space under your bucket list, then you would surely after reading a little about it. One of the highest altitude places in the world, Ladakh is considered a heaven for travellers. This amazing spot has been bestowed with tall peaks, snow-covered Himalayan mountains and ranges, bumpy valleys, barren lands, the flowing waters of Indus and Zanskar rivers, numerous streams carrying the glaciers right next to lush green valleys. All this beauty has been taken up the notch by many ancient monasteries, religious sites, and palaces of the royalty, gompas and wildlife sanctuaries. Ladak for many years has been a spot for many adventure seekers to enjoy activities such as trekking, mountain-climbing, mountain biking, double hump camel ride, jeep safari, paragliding and river rafting. All this combined with the warm hospitality of the people of Ladakh makes it a truly memorable place to visit.
Area: 86,904 Km2
Altitude: 9,800 feet
Temperature: In summers, up to 27-degree celsius, and in winters it is -20 degree celsius.
Best Season: The month of March is considered as the best time to visit Ladakh for an adventurous trip. While the months from April to May remain the peak season for Ladakh tourism.
Clothing: In summers, light woollen clothes and in winters, heavy woollens with windproofing will be apt for you to survive the weather of Ladakh.
Language: Ladakhi, Purik, Balti, English and Tibetan
- Khardung La Pass is the highest motorable road in the world.
- The Chadar Trek on the frozen Zanskar river in Leh.
- Constructed in 1982, the Bailey bridge between the Suru River and Dras River is the highest bridge in the world.
- Tso Moriri, Korzok in Ladakh has an altitude of 4,600 meters causing it to be the highest field in the world.
- Nubra Valley in Ladakh is the only place in India where Two-Humped Camels are found.
- The beautiful Pangong Lake in Ladakh is regarded as the world’s highest saltwater lake.
- The Buddhist calendar or the Tibetian calendar adds a leap month every two to three years, and a leap day eleven times in fifty-seven years.
So, where exactly should you roam around in Ladakh? With its amazing amalgamation of everything amazing mixed with its traditional streak is bestowed with amazing places. Following are some of the places you ought to visit in Ladakh.
A slight 20 kilometre away from the Town of Leh, is the ancient Thiksey Monastery. Built-in the 1430 AD, it is marked as the largest monastery of Central Ladakh. The monastery is a twelve storey building that comprises several different buildings of different sizes that have been built in a way that the most important is on the hilltop and rest follow below. A statue of the Tibetian deity can be seen at the foot of the mountain and the stupa at the tip of the mountain. The Lakhang Nyerma temple that is dedicated to Goddess Dorje Chenmo is situated inside the Thiksey monastery. The monastery also comprises a statue of Maitreya Buddha, the Tara temple, an assembly hall and the Lamokhang Temple. Apart from this, the monastery is also home to sixty lamas whose quarters are located at the top of the hill. Each of the buildings has been painted red, white and ochre colours that resemble the Potala Palace in Tibet. Due to its resemblance, the Thiksey monastery is often called the mini Potala.
The Thiksey monastery is known to host several hosts too. One of the most famous Tibetian festivals celebrated here is the Gustor festival that is held every year in October or November. Numerous trade fairs are also held near the monastery. Various locals and travellers can be seen selling and buying handicrafts. The trades are usually carried out on barter.
GUIDELINES FOR THE THIKSEY MONASTERY
- Don’t carry any food items along with you. Empty your bag if you have any food items before entering the premises
- Maintain silence inside the monastery. Any noise or disturbance is strictly looked down upon.
- Make sure to put your phone on silent before you enter the monastery.
- Pets are not allowed inside the monastery. If you are travelling with a pet, make sure to leave them behind with a caretaker.
- Special permits are required for videography.
- Flash photography is not allowed inside the parameters.
- If you want to learn more about the monastery then you can take the help of the monks present inside. They will guide you through the entire buildings and explain everything in detail for your understanding.
A little over 45 km away from the south of Leh lies the magnificent Hemis Monastery. The Hemis Monastery was built in 1630 that is today regarded as the biggest and most iconic monasteries of Ladakh. The monastery has been dedicated to the Dugpa Kargyutpa order or Red Sect of Buddhism. Naropa who is the teacher of the translator Marpa and the disciple of the yogi Tilopa is regarded as the founding fathers of the Kagyu-lineage of Buddhism, with Hemis as its main seat. It is said that in 1960 the monastery was founded by Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso who was the first incarnation. He was invited to Ladakh by the King Singay Namgyal and was given estate throughout the region. Interiors of the Hemis monastery contain a copper gilded statue of Lord Buddha with which are situated various other stupas made of precious metal like gold and silver. Apart from two large statues of Lord Buddha, a large statue of Guru Rimpoche, the monastery inside also has a museum that holds the Buddhist relics, various historical paintings, carriers and weapons for tourists to witness. The main building has been painted with white and embellished stones topped with paintings of religious figures.
The Hemis Festival annually celebrated the Hemis Festival in June to honour Guru Padmasambhava whose birth anniversary falls on the tenth day of the fifth month of the Monkey year of Tibetan calendar. A usual fact about this festival is that it comes after a period of twelve long years. Hence, is celebrated with great joy and enthusiasm by everyone. An early morning gala with the tapestry adorned with pearls depicting the image of Guru Padmasambhava is exhibited. People perform masked dances known as the Cham with traditional music playing in the background. Monks can be seen performing Tantric worship, as they are part of Tantric tradition.
The Hemis National Park nearby is also a popular tourist attraction near the Hemis Monastery.
Located inside the Shey Palace lies one of the popular monasteries, the Shey Monastery. Travelling for some 16 km from the city of Leh near the Thiksey and Hemis monastery lies the Shey Monastery. The Shey Palace on which the monastery lies was earlier the summer retreat of the royal family of Ladakh. The monastery was built in 1655 by Deldon Namgyal, in the memory of his father, Singay Namgyal which showcases the largest victory stupa in Leh whose top is made of pure gold. It consists of a copper gilded statue of Shakyamuni Buddha and stupa. Another great sight to witness are the carvings on the rock-face of five Buddha in meditation.
The monastery celebrates two seasonal festivals every year. The Shey Doo Lhoo festival is celebrated at the beginning of the sowing season that is either celebrated on the 26th and 27th in the months of July or August. During this time the monks perform special rituals in the monastery. An oracle reader riding a horse also visits the Shey Monastery during this festival. He conducts religious prayer for three days where he utters the prophecies for the upcoming year and goes into a trance.
The other festival that is celebrated is called the Shey Rhupla. It is celebrated during the onset of the harvest season when farmers offer the first fruits to the Lord Buddha. A special dance is known as Rhuupla where men wear tiger costumes is performed that showcases their sheer happiness.
Travelling to Nubra on the highest motorable road, Khardung La Pass is a journey you are going to remember for the rest of your life. At an average altitude of 10000 Feet or 3048 Mtrs, the Nubra Valley has a lower altitude than Leh. The magnificent landscapes that one gets to witness during the journey is purely magical. The road is famous for its Bactrian camel rides as they are considered one of the rarest sports around. The valley is located on the ancient Silk Route, that has Shyok and Nubra rivers passing in slim trails through it and some magnanimous monasteries. The region is under military supervision because just a few miles ahead lies the highest battlefield in the world, Siachen base camp. It is necessary that all foreign nationals are required to get a protected area permit. Indian nationals are also required to obtain an Inner Line Permit to enter the Nubra valley. The soldiers located at the Khardung La Pass will receive all the photocopies of your travel permits.
Famous spots for you to stop nearby include Diskit. two hours away from the Khardungla Pass is Diskit, which is located at the edge of a desert on the Shyok-side valley. Disk lies at a great altitude of 2000 meters. It is advised that anyone going up there should carry a water bottle as the altitude might give you a headache and nausea. The road is paved till south Pulu which is a military check post, where the permits are checked. The entire view up top is mystically surrounded by the steep Himalayas with goats eating grassy leaves by the side. While being here you’ll be able to spot the fragrant smell of the local tea called chang. One can always come here and witness the Himalayas covered in a thick coat of snow. The sight is sheer, surreal and beautiful to witness. The permit only allows you to move a little forward towards the Panamik, the last settlement of any size before the Tibetan border.
Remember the time in the movie three idiots when Kareena Kapoor rode up her scooter to meet Aamir Khan after years. Do you know where it was shot? It was the iconic spot of Ladakh known to one and all as the beautiful Pangong Lake. The Pangong Lake is located at the height of 4350 meters where it is also famously known as the Pangong Tso. The lake stretches up to 5 km in width and 134 km in length out of which 60% of the length extends into Tibet. The lake is geographically situated in a disputed territory that is claimed by both India and China. Due to its great altitude, the temperature of the lake ranges from -5 degrees to 10 degrees celsius due to which the lake freezes in winters despite its salinity. The magnanimous feature of this lake is that it does not remain blue throughout the year or day. It keeps changing its colour ranging from azure, light blue, purple, green and grey. The Pangong lake is five hours away from Leh. The route from Leh to the lake is entirely beautiful and admirable to experience. You’ll seamlessly cross the Chang La, the third highest Motorable mountain pass in the world, another great tree to your eyes. After crossing the pass you’ll further be led through Tangste and other smaller villages, crossing a river called Pagal Naala also known as the Crazy Stream. The lakes have been known to be a major tourist for years that is why it is considered as a must-visit around Ladakh.
The Leh palace or Lhachen Palkar is a former royal palace of the Leh kingdom in the Leh city. One of the most famous tourist attraction, the Leh Palace was built in the seventeenth century by the founder of the
Namgyal dynasty of Ladakh. The palace has nine stories due to which it has been regarded as one of the tallest buildings. Built on Tsemo hill, the palace was previously the residence of the royal family. The palace has lower rooms, storerooms and stables. In the mid-19th century, the Dogra forces invaded and took over Ladakh. Due to the invasion, the royal family were forced to shift to the Stok Palace. Not only was the palace taken away from the royal family, but it also succumbed to many damages and wrath of the invaders. The Leh Palace has been compared to the Lhasa’s Potala Palace as it displays some of the finest medieval Tibetan architecture. The palace has been built out of stones, wood, mud and sand, due to which the interiors form a cool climate in summers and warmer winters. Despite the palace being in shambles after the invasion, one can still witness but, some entrances and rooms are still intact which make it an incredible spot to witness. Inside the monastery, one can witness a statue of Lord Buddha. The Leh Palace has been decorated with 450-year-old paintings, crowns, ceremonial dresses and pieces of jewellery.
Located in the eastern side of Ladakh lies at an elevation of 12,000 feet the sub-district of Kargil, Zahar or Zanskar. Zanskar is marked as one of the most magnificently beautiful places to visit in the entire region of Himalaya. It is also known for being among the isolated regions of the Trans Himalaya region. Once part of the Guge kingdom in Tibet, Zanskar is known for its huge significant presence of the Buddhism culture, its deserted dunes and snow-capped mountains. Once you reach this stunning valley you will be introduced to crystal clear waters running and a soothing climate that will leave you with a slight cheer. During the months of winter Zanskar gets extremely cold as the weather drops to a minus 300-degree celsius. A drive of 105 km away from Leh, the Zanskar valley is an apt spot for adventure enthusiasts. The spot has received newfound fame for being one of the adventure sports in the Himalayan region that offers trekking, paragliding and water rafting. The best time to visit Zanskar Valley is between June to September.
Places to visit in the Zanskar Valley
- Suru Valley
While reaching the Zanskar Valley you’ll pass through the green Suru Valley. Blooming of lush greenery and flowers is great to stop and explore for a couple of hours. Since travelling in Ladakh can take a toll on your health it is better to unwind and relax at the Suru Valley. The Suru Valley is also the starting point for rafting trips and mountain expeditions.
- Doda River
The Doda river is one of the prominent tourist spots for people visiting the Zanskar Valley. The river stretches up to 79 km that entertains many swimmers and rafters.
- Sani Monastery
Founded by the famous Kushan emperor, the Sani Monastery is regarded as one of the oldest regions of Ladakh.
The Magnetic hill also is known as the gravity hill, mystery hill or gravity road lies 30 km away from Leh on the Leh-Kargil-Srinagar national highway. The Magnetic Hill lies at an extreme elevation of 14,000 feet above sea level. Enhancing the beauty of the place, the hill is surrounded by the Sindhu River that descends from Tibet and moves forward to Pakistan. The spectacular natural layout of the surrounding produces a sense of illusion to one where a very slight downhill slope appears to be an uphill slope. Thus, a car left out of gear will appear to be rolling up the hill. The Magnetic Hill is regarded to possess certain magnetic properties that attract metallic objects which make vehicles move up the hill without their engines switched on at a constant speed of 20 km per hour. The local administration of the area has made clear signs that say that of a vehicle is found on a particular spot of the hill it will not slide down rather it will go up. The hill has caused many random theories by locals who believe that the magnetic road is a straightaway to heaven. However, the authorities believe that there is a strong magnetic force emanating from the hill that pulls vehicles that are within its range. This phenomenon has been agreed and experienced by many travellers across the world. The Magnetic Hill has also caused planes of Indian Air Force to divert their route in the past to avoid magnetic interference on them. Magnetic Hill is considered as one of the various unique spots that one can visit and enjoy in Ladakh.
Other popular attractions around the Magnetic Hill include the merging of the waters of the Indus River and Zanskar River. And Pathar Sahib Gurudwara located 12,000 ft above is a great spot to visit too.
Khardung La pass
The Khardung La pass also known as the Pass of Lower Castle is the world’s highest motorable pass that is located between the Shyok and Nubra Valley in Ladakh. One of the most scenic routes in Leh, the Khardung la Pass is at a great height of 18,380 ft above the sea level. The entire road from Leh to Khardung La stretches up to 24 km till the South of Pullu check post. The entire road has been made up of loose rock, dirt and snowmelt. Due to which it is said that whether you are travelling by car or bike it is important to be careful at all times. The Khardung La pass offers great pristine landscape and mountain views for one to witness while touring the entire Khardung la pass area. The Khardung La pass requires an inner line permit for Indians and a protected area permit for foreigners is required. A view on top of the Leh town below the Stok Kangri peak in the background is beyond phenomenal. You’ll be welcomed with a phenomenal and enchanting image of nature that’ll surely bestow you with nothing but sheer pleasure. The weather is highly unstable and can change surprisingly fast leaving you stuck for hours or days even so you need to be entirely prepared whenever you plan to visit Khardung La. Once you are there, the feeling is just beyond words.